As with much short fiction, Leaving Lyndow takes as its heart a moment of no great consequence, a young woman setting forth to follow her childhood dream of exploration and scientific endeavour. Before she can board the boat bound for the future, however, Clara must farewell the people and places that have shaped her youth. A stroll through such formative environs promises a deep engagement with memories and feelings of nostalgia, but while Eastshade Studios makes a clear effort to capture and evoke emotion in the game, the island of Lyndow seems little more than window dressing. Attributing this quality to (or excusing it because of) the game’s brevity is tempting, but the evidence of countless poems and short stories shows that length does not dictate impact. Despite laying deep within the foundations of the game, however, Leaving Lyndow’s shortcomings are not enough to prevent it from being a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
A large part of Leaving Lyndow’s charm stems from its minimalistic design. The game follows the now-familiar tradition of first-person narrative adventures, stripping away all but the most basic interactions in order to give the unfolding story centre stage. With simplicity comes competence; the control scheme is straightforward, barely requiring even the few tutorial prompts the game provides, although Clara’s walking speed is, perhaps, a tad too restrictive. However, given the staid pace of the game and the detail baked into each environment, the decision to slow players down is justified. The inclusion of a small number of mini-games bolsters the core exploration and dialogue mechanics, but while each of them is a welcome diversion, they ultimately serve little purpose within the context of the narrative. Intended to suggest the bonds that exist between Clara and the friends and family members that surround her in Lyndow, the mini-games feel more like busywork than the authentic representation of a close connection because they reflect incidental character detail, mentioned only in the moment of their execution, rather than showcasing the deeper personalities of the people with whom they are concerned.
Compounding this issue is the sensation that the various characters hew too closely to archetype to be truly memorable. Clara’s mother is supportive, her uncle disapproving, her boyfriend reminiscent about the past, and a classmate jealous of her success. These differing opinions give rise to minor conflicts, though the only one that carries any real weight is the debate between Clara’s mother and uncle about the wisdom of allowing her to follow in her father’s footsteps, given that he died in a similar venture some years prior. This information is conveyed through an exchange of letters, and comments made by the two characters, but only serves to shine light on the conflict rather than the people, who are left seeming one-dimensional. Unfortunately, this lack of depth extends to Clara herself as the game offers only the most perfunctory insight into her state of mind. Though she visits the places of her youth in preparation of the journey ahead, nostalgia only sets in when convenient; most of her visitations do not seem like farewell at all, but rather the ordinary daily routines of an ordinary life.
Despite this pervasive sentiment, Leaving Lyndow is set on Clara’s last day on her island home, following her preparations to embark on her first expedition with the Guild of Maritime Exploration, a journey from which she may never return, and players, wisely, will never experience. The premise is rife with potential for emotional resonance, but the execution fails to generate enough enthusiasm to last even the entirety of the game’s one-hour runtime. Clara is too aloof, her dialogue options, even at their sassiest, too bland to provide any real indication of her personality, and with such a weak lead, the plot lacks a motivating force. The player’s malaise towards the narrative is reinforced by its directionlessness; Clara’s day consists of visiting five locations, three of which are explored at the player’s discretion, however this freedom comes at the cost of narrative consistency, as the areas are explored in isolation, the discoveries within going unremarked elsewhere. Without a guiding thread, an opportunity is missed to invest the game with greater coherence. Furthermore, Leaving Lyndow’s story too frequently operates solely on a surface level, steadfastly refusing to be drawn into a discussion of deeper themes.
Hints of such thematic engagement do exist, however. For example, both written words and environmental cues reference a recent disaster that caused considerable damage to Lyndow, but both also offer the prospect of a more fruitful future after the rebuilding effort is complete. As such, though the fates of Clara and Lyndow diverge, this shared hopefulness for an uncertain future ensures that they are, in some way, intertwined. Similarly, the large patch of Sacblossom plants at Clara’s uncle’s house in combination with an allusion to his proclivity towards consumption of Sacblossom wine suggests that he suffers from alcoholism, but the hint is fleeting and lacks further explication through his mannerisms or speech patterns. These examples are exceptions to the rule, however, with the environments being generally vacuous and void of deeper meaning. Despite this, the locales are among the most entrancing aspects of the game, the rounded architecture and ethereal flora offering an immediate disconnect from the real world and effortlessly evoking the fantasy of Eastshade. Of the five environments on offer, the forest is the most absorbing, eschewing the burden of conversation and providing the greatest freedom. The forest is also where Leaving Lyndow comes tantalisingly close to letting players know more about Clara—who she really is, and how her personality was formed—but the clues stop before any revelations are made.
Leaving Lyndow’s visual and aural presentation is also strongest in the natural environments. The artistry and gently-blurred visuals create the impression of a watercolour aesthetic that works most powerfully in the wildernesses. As with the architecture, the art style heightens the sense of the unreal and enables players to be drawn into the fiction far more readily than a more realistic style might. Similarly, the ambient noise is most enjoyable in the open air, with insects chirping and only the breeze for company, although the soft burble of conversation found elsewhere is no less convincing. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is entirely fitting, a collection of gentle classical compositions that foreground piano, panpipes, and strings to reinforce the slow pace of the game. Even removed from the context of Leaving Lyndow, the soundtrack is an aural delight, and a clear highlight of the experience, though not enough to elevate the gameplay or narrative to the heights of their potential.
Leaving Lyndow makes some curious adaptations to the “walking simulator” genre, utilising a series of small environments rather than an open hub, introducing NPCs to talk to, and shortening the experience, but these alterations are less successful than they could have been. Though the presentation is breath-taking and the gameplay competent, the writing leaves much to be desired, an unfortunate facet of the production that drags the game down considerably. As a first-person narrative adventure then, Leaving Lyndow is middling, lacking in characterisation and thematic depth, but as an exercise in world-building and a brief foray into the Eastshade universe, the game is a thoroughly enjoyable experience that promises better things on the horizon.